Lean Six Sigma Tools: DMAIC

DMAIC: The Heart of Lean Six Sigma

“Work smarter, not harder” is a phrase most of us have encountered at some point or another in our careers. While there is only a finite number of effort and hours we can throw at a problem each day, working smarter implies we can get more out of the time we are putting in.

What I love about Lean Six Sigma is that it provides some of the tools and techniques for answering the question of how to work smarter. Lean and Six Sigma are technically different methodologies, but they provide many synergies together.

Lean focuses on two main ideas:

  • Analyzing processes to identify issues with flow
  • Improving processes to achieve continuous flow

However, Lean has a hard time accommodating variation. That is where Six Sigma comes into play with:

  • Understanding the need – the voice of customer and business needs
  • Accurately gathering data
  • Root cause analysis on variations
  • Improving processes to minimize variation and provide stability
  • Sustain improvements

The most basic tool in Six Sigma is DMAIC, which stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.

Define

The first step is identifying what your objective is. Imagine you are on a dock in Florida and you tell the dock master you are interested in chartering a boat. The first question is going to be what are you trying to accomplish? Are you interested in scuba diving? How about deep-sea fishing? Do you need passage to a remote getaway island? Are you looking for a three hour tour with a professor and a movie star?

In the define stage, take time to really figure out what your business goals are. You might need to create a high-level map of the value stream you are working on. This is also a great time to pull in Voice of the customer studies. You should also scope out at a high level your project resources and timeline.

Measure

A key aspect of projects that is often overlooked is current state assessment. What are your Key Performance Indicators? What are the variables that you are looking to impact in this process? I have been involved on far too many projects where we got to the end without really understanding whether we had made significant improvement or not.

Once you identify the key data you are looking to improve, it is also important to pull that data now and establish a baseline. You cannot say you improved performance by 30% at the end of a project if you did not establish that baseline to begin with.

Analyze

This is one of my favorite steps. Your goal here is to find the root cause of the problem you are trying to solve. The trick is often there are multiple items you can pursue. That is when prioritization comes in, and understanding which item will give you the biggest improvement for the least effort.

Map out your value stream and then make a list of possible bottlenecks, issues, etc. Tools such as fishbone diagrams and the 5 Whys will help you validate you have identified a true root cause and not simply another symptom of the problem.

During the analysis phase, it is often tempting to jump into problem solving. It is important to be patient make sure you have really found all the causal relationships and that you have verified what might be contributing to the problem.

Improve

With a solid understanding of what you are going after, it is time to identify possible solutions. A great technique I love for this is called brainswarming. Here is a video with a great explanation on how brainswarming differs from brainstorming.

During this stage, map out the future state value stream and then test, test, test! Try the solution in standard operating conditions and then try a few outliers and various scenarios that are perhaps less likely but still relevant.

Control

The last step is standardizing the process and implementing your control system. Those KPIs and the baseline established previously are very important now. They help you measure the impact of the improvement and evaluate your results.

If you’ve used DMAIC in the past, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experience on how this tool worked for you and any tips or tricks you can share to get the most out of it.

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